Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

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Patriots impressed by Flacco's poise

FOXBORO -- Which quarterback has the postseason's best passer rating?
Joe Flacco. 
Baltimore's signal caller tops the likes of Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, and Peyton Manning with his 102.5 playoff rating. He has the highest yards per attempt average (10.75), most touchdowns (5), fewest interceptions (0), and second-most yards per game (307). 
The numbers from two performances alone don't answer the question of whether or not Flacco is an elite quarterback, but they do mean something. A win over the Patriots in this weekend's AFC Championship would mean something more. 
A fact New England is acutely aware of. 
"He's a great quarterback, I don't care what nobody says about him," Vince Wilfork said Wednesday. "One thing he does is stay poised. No matter how bad things get or how good things are. He is a tough quarterback. He is a competitor and it shows. He is putting his team in good situations. He doesnt turn the ball over much. When they ask him to make plays he has made them. He seems to always have a good game against us. He is a very, very physically and mentally tough football player."
Flacco's Ravens are 1-2 against the Patriots in playoff games. Personally, the quarterback has thrown seven touchdowns to just two interceptions. He bested Tom Brady when their teams met in September, completing 28 of 39 passes for 382 yards, three touchdowns, and one interception in Baltimore's 31-30 win. 
Patriots coach Bill Belichick said there are a few fundamental reasons why Flacco presents such a challenge.
"Id say his ability to number one, not turn the ball over and number two, to make big plays, and number three, to score points, which theyve scored a lot of points this year which is really what the name of the game is. Its about points, not all the other stats that we sometimes like to throw out there. Those are the areas that he's excelled in. And I think if you're scoring points, youre not turning the ball over, then probably playing pretty well."
Wilfork circled back to Flacco's composure, which was exemplified in the quarterback's work last weekend. The Divisional Playoff between the Ravens and Broncos featured four ties. Every time a lead was grasped it was done by the Broncos. But whenever Flacco looked undone, he managed to reign it in. 
There was that three play, 36-second stunner of a scoring drive before halftime that featured passes of 11, 15, and 32 yards. 
Decision making? Check. 
There was that 70-yard touchdown bomb fired to Jacoby Jones that forced overtime. 
Accuracy? Check. Arm strength? Check. 
"No matter how bad it gets, he seems to block everything out and play football and it showed again last week against Denver," said Wilfork. "Throughout the course of the game it wasnt perfect, but he made the throw and they made the catch for him. It said a lot about that football team. 
"He is definitely one of the tougher quarterbacks in this league. He has a big heart and he plays to win."
Winning Sunday? That would be the most convincing vote of confidence Flacco could get. 

Bogaerts hitting at a record-setting pace

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Bogaerts hitting at a record-setting pace

A change of scenery is a must for the Red Sox after the rough series in Texas, where they were lucky to walk away with one win.

The pitching staff's struggles were the most apparent, but Xander Bogaerts had arguably his worst series of the season -- 2-for-12 at the plate and two errors in the field.

Although Bogaerts now finds himself three points behind José Altuve (.347) for the American League batting lead, he still leads the major leagues with 108 hits. He has more hits than Daniel Murphy, who’s at .349 in the National League.

And despite his weekend struggles, the Boston shortstop is in position to make a run at history  -- the single-season hits record.

Bogaerts is already in a comfortable spot to break Wade Boggs’ Red Sox record of 240 hits, set in 1985. Through 74 games, Bogaerts has 10 more hits than the Hall-of-Famer had at that point in the season.

He's also ahead of the pace set in 2004 by Ichiro Suzuki, who established the MLB record for most hits in a season with 262 that year. Bogarts has five more hits than Ichiro had through 74 games.

There's no guarantee he'll reach 262, or anything close. Ichiro had a strong finishing kick in '04, batting .418 with 159 hits after his 74th game. In fact, in his final 74 games, he hit .433 with 141 hits. He's left challengers in the dust before: Altuve was equal to Ichiro's pace in 2014 -- both had 105 hits in their first 76 games -- but wound up with "only" 225 hits.

So, admittedly, Bogaerts is facing an uphill battle.

He does have a one advantage over Ichiro, though. In 2004, Suzuki -- still playing for the Mariners -- usually had Randy Winn hitting behind him. Although Winn was a respectable player, he doesn’t command the respect of the hitter who's usually behind Bogaerts: David Ortiz.

Opposing pitchers still don’t plan to attack Bogaerts, but it’d only be worse if pretty much anyone other than Ortiz was coming up next.

And there’s one last set of statistics to consider:

Suzuki finished 2004 with 80 games in which he had at least two hits. That’s 49.7 percent of the games he played in.

Bogaerts has done that 33 times -- 44.6 percent of his games. So he needs to string together some big games if he intends to make an improbable run at the 12-year-old record.

Improbable, yes.

But definitely not impossible.

Lionel Messi says he is quitting Argentina national team

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Lionel Messi says he is quitting Argentina national team

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Lionel Messi says he is quitting Argentina's national team.

Argentina and Messi lost a final for the third year in a row, with Chile winning the Copa America 4-2 on penalty kicks following a 0-0 tie Sunday night.

His nation's career scoring leader with 55 international goals, Messi sent Argentina's first penalty kick over the crossbar.

Messi tells the Argentine network TyC Sports "the national team is over for me. It's been four finals, it's not meant for me. I tried. It was the thing I wanted the most, but I couldn't get it, so I think it's over."

Messi and Argentina lost to Brazil in the 2007 Copa final and to Germany in extra time in the 2014 World Cup final. They lost last year's Copa final to host Chile on penalty kicks.

The 29-year-old Messi has led Barcelona to four Champions League titles.

Perry's Patriots 53-man roster projection

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Perry's Patriots 53-man roster projection

With New England Patriots organized workouts finished until next month, Phil Perry puts together another 53-man roster projection.

View the gallery here